Friday, May 28, 2010

Church is non-partisan, but we will keep the money

Bishop Hwa Yung
May 28, 10

Many of our church members are aware of the reports in the media that the government made grants to four Methodist churches in Sibu, on the eve of the recent parliamentary by-election. The Council of Presidents discussed this matter at its May 25 meeting.

Pending fuller deliberations on the matter by the General Conference Executive Council at its upcoming meeting, we wish to issue a pastoral letter stating the following:

1. First, the giving of grants to religious bodies for the advancement of religion, as well as to other bodies like schools, etc, is a government responsibility. To receive such is a citizen's right. After all, the money given is actually taxpayers' money.

Indeed the problem in our country is that most of the money for religious bodies is usually given to one particular religious community, with relatively much smaller proportions given to other communities. In so far as the money was given to the churches this time round, it can be said that the government is trying to right a past wrong.

Moreover, it should be pointed out that this is not the first time the government has given such grants. Further, our churches are not the only recipients. Other religious groups also received similar grants.

2. However, as the public at large has pointed out, the problem with the grants made in this instance is that of timing! They were given on the eve of a closely fought by-election and therefore perceived to be manipulative and highly questionable. Some people have therefore urged the churches involved to return the money.

3. The Christian church is concerned about morality and politics. Nonetheless, it cannot take sides in party politics for various reasons, including the fact that there are Christians on both sides of the political divide.

Furthermore, the church must also guard against being perceived as being used as a tool by political parties, whether those in government or those in opposition. In light of the above, rejecting the grants given by the government in this instance is not necessarily the solution, because it could be misinterpreted as a rejection of the government in favour of the opposition.

Clearly we are caught in a delicate dilemma, which has been forced upon us.

4. The Methodist Church in Malaysia respects the right of the leadership of the four churches to decide on what to do with the grants given, in accordance with the conditions pertaining to them. At the same time, the General Conference Executive Council, which includes the bishop and all the presidents, will work with the churches concerned to resolve the matter wisely.

5. Meanwhile, we would like to urge all our pastors and members to refrain from making any comments on the matter so that it does not get blown out of proportion. Instead, let us take seriously the words of our Lord Jesus in Mat 5:16, which is particularly significant in our present context.

'In the same way, let your light shine before all men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.'

When we truly live in this manner, we will go a long way to fulfil our Quadrennium theme, 'Spreading Scriptural Holiness, Transforming the Nation.' May the peace of the Lord be with all of you!

The writer is chairman of the Methodish Church's Council of Presidents.


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